The Midnight Flower and the Desolate Iron were located in perilous locations that even someone of Ao Feng's prowess was unable to enter. There should have been no one else other than Zhang Xuan and his direct disciples that were capable of entering those areas to claim those treasures.
As such, he had assumed that it was their doing all along, but clearly, he was mistaken.
Was there another power in the Flooding Sea that was discreetly collecting all the treasures in the Flooding Sea?
"Someone else?" Zheng Yang frowned for a moment before nodding in agreement. "Now that you mention it, that does seem possible. There were several areas we visited where the treasures had already been claimed by someone else. We thought that it was the doing of the Conferred God King of the Nine Skies, but that doesn't appear to be the case…"
"That person was able to collect all of those treasures without a hitch while leaving little to no trace at all. That means that they're no weaker than the rest of you…" Zhang Xuan was starting to feel a little bewildered by the situation.
Based on what he had heard from Ao Feng thus far, he and his eleven direct disciples should have been the strongest existences in the Flooding Sea. If so, where did this elusive expert come from?
"I heard that Demon Monarch Qiankun has accepted another successor other than me, and he's even forged a body for him," Lu Chong suddenly said.
"He forged a body for him?"
Once Lu Chong said that, Zhang Xuan also recalled hearing about such a thing before.
"Yes, that's right. That successor appears to have arrived in the Firmament ahead of us, and he appeared through the Netherworld Pool. Given his powerful soul cultivation, it might have been possible for him to find those treasures ahead of us and take them away with ease," Lu Chong said.
In a place like the Flooding Sea, other than having a veteran lead one around, another factor that played a crucial role was the strength of one's soul. The stronger one's soul cultivation was, the more sensitive one would be to the presence of treasures.
This played a crucial role in finding and securing the treasures hidden all over the area faster than others.
"If he arrived in the Firmament earlier than us, it means that he isn't native to the Firmament. If so… who could it be?" Zhang Xuan fell into deep thought.
Outside the Flooding Sea…
"So what if those people are Zhang Xuan's direct disciples? I still have a hidden piece! He'll be able to secure a good deal of treasures in the Flooding Sea!" Demon Monarch Qiankun smirked smugly as he looked at the Communication Jade Token in his hand.
Even though they were unable to peer into the Flooding Sea with their consciousness, they were still able to receive news from those in the area through the use of special artifacts.
Just a moment ago, Demon Monarch Qiankun had received a message from the hidden piece that he had planted in the Flooding Sea. Based on the message he received, the hidden piece had secured a lot of treasures for their Sky of Drifting Specter.
Browsing through the list of items, Demon Monarch Qiankun felt tempted to look up to the sky and laugh heartily.
If his hidden piece could successfully bring all those items out, he would be able to advance his cultivation considerably. While it was unlikely that he would be able to surpass God Monarch Lingxi, at the very least, he should still be able to rise to the top of the other eight God Monarchs.
Seeing how smug Demon Monarch Qiankun was acting, the Cloud Dragon Monarch asked with a cold harrumph, "How strong is the hidden piece you prepared?"
"He isn't as strong as Lu Chong, so it'll be hard for him to match Zhao Ya and the others. However, his soul is exceptionally strong, making him highly suited for covert operations and treasure hunting," Demon Monarch Qiankun replied confidently.
"So what if your hidden piece has a strong soul? Once the Conferred God King of the Nine Skies lays his hands on that hidden piece of yours, you'll still end up with nothing!" Fairy Linglong poured a bucket of cold water over Demon Monarch Qiankun's smugness.
They were currently feeling frustrated at how their efforts had ended up benefiting only their enemy, yet this darned old man dared to celebrate gleefully before them. It went without saying that they had to rain on his parade to even things out!
"That's only if the Conferred God King of the Nine Skies is able to find him. I instructed him clearly not to head to places with many people and to try his best to conceal his presence," Demon Monarch Qiankun said proudly. "It seems like my plan worked out just fine!"
Seeing how prepared Demon Monarch Qiankun was, everyone could only shake their heads helplessly.
As expected of the wily old fox, he sure was cunning.
From the looks of it, Demon Monarch Qiankun was likely the greatest winner of them all.
While they were sighing over this matter, they suddenly sensed an intense reverberation occurring within the Flooding Sea. They could vaguely feel spiritual energy that had flowed out reversing back into the Flooding Sea.
"What's going on?" the Cloud Dragon Monarch asked with a frown.
"It seems like another legendary treasure has surfaced. The treasure is absorbing the spiritual energy within the Flooding Sea, causing the spiritual energy that has diffused into the Firmament to flow back in," Fairy Linglong said as she stared at the black sea ahead of her intently, hoping to somehow peer through the darkness to see what was happening within.
"A legendary treasure? I wonder what it is," God Monarch Zhuoyang remarked with eyes filled with excitement, but a moment later, he shook his head with a bitter smile.
Even if a legendary treasure appeared, it was unlikely to end up as theirs.
Without a doubt, the Conferred God King of the Nine Skies and his direct disciples would claim it for themselves.
"It is actually not that difficult to find out what it is. I'll just have to get my hidden piece to check on it. Maybe I should get him to swipe it while he's at it." Demon Monarch Qiankun chuckled gleefully.
Fate always favored the prepared! This would be a lesson that the other God Monarchs should start learning!
It had not been easy for him to one up all the other God Monarchs, so he was extremely pleased with such an outcome. He quickly sent a message over to his hidden piece, and a moment later, he received a reply.
"He has been making sure to hide himself well in order to avoid meeting other cultivators in the Flooding Sea, but right now, he's heading over to see the true form of that legendary treasure…" Demon Monarch Qiankun chuckled.
He waited quietly for a moment before swiping on his Communication Jade Token once more, and the next instant, his eyes lit up with far more excitement than he had experienced over the past tens of thousands of years.
"It's the Primordial Golden Lotus of the Nine Skies!"
"Primordial Golden Lotus of the Nine Skies?"
All the God Monarchs widened their eyes in astonishment.
While most Conferred God Kings might not have heard of such an artifact before, as God Monarchs, they knew just how powerful that legendary artifact was.
It was an existence created by nature to enforce laws upon the universe, making it an artifact no weaker than them God Monarchs.
"If any one of us obtains the Primordial Golden Lotus of the Nine Skies, we'll be able to immediately raise his cultivation to a level comparable to God Monarch Lingxi…" The Acheron God Monarch, who had been quiet thus far, could not help but speak up in agitation.
The Primordial Golden Lotus of the Nine Skies was an artifact that was even more ancient than them!
Assimilating such an artifact would surely raise their cultivation by leaps and bounds, allowing them to easily overcome their current bottleneck.
The crowd nodded in agreement.
Even though their faces were turning green in envy, they knew that it was impossible for their Conferred God Kings to obtain it with Zhang Xuan inside.
"I'll get my hidden piece to snatch it no matter what price he has to pay," Demon Monarch Qiankun murmured beneath his breath as a glint flashed across his eyes.
He could not allow himself to miss the Primordial Golden Lotus of the Nine Skies just like that!
So, with a swipe of his finger, he immediately relayed his orders through the Communication Jade Token.
No matter what, I still have a shot at this. While the cultivation of my hidden piece cannot compete with Zhang Xuan and the others, his concealment and treasure gathering abilities are top-notch. As soon as he lay his hands on the lotus, I'll teleport him back to the Firmament, Demon Monarch Qiankun thought as his heart thumped in agitation.
The chances of success were slim, but they were not negligible. If his hidden piece somehow succeeded, it would be a huge victory for him.
His hidden piece was a secret card that he had prepared with great care, such that it was impossible for him to turn against him like Lu Chong.
Just as Demon Monarch Qiankun was pacing around anxiously, waiting for the response of his hidden piece, his Communication Jade Token suddenly shook once again. He immediately lowered his head to look at the received message, and his eyes slowly widened in disbelief.
One could visibly see how the excitement on his face collapsed into despair, and it looked as if the old man would really pass away from the shock.
The other God Monarchs looked at him and asked, "What's wrong?"
"My hidden piece said that…" With an expression on his face that looked as if he was going to burst into tears, Demon Monarch Qiankun cried out, "… Zhang Xuan is his Young Master, so he has already presented all of the items he has gathered to him!"
"…" The other God Monarchs.
Just a moment earlier, Demon Monarch Qiankun had been bragging to them with a gleeful look on his face, but in the blink of an eye, he ended up with a fate even worse than them.
There was no way Demon Monarch Qiankun could accept this, and the other God Monarchs were also staring at one another in frenzy.
It was already hard enough for them to swallow the fact that the cultivators they had taken in and nurtured were all Zhang Xuan's disciples, but at the very least, Zhao Ya and the others did give them a heads up beforehand.
So, they had no choice but to accept this.
But even the hidden piece that Demon Monarch Qiankun had secretly prepared turned out to be Zhang Xuan's servant. This was just a little insane.
Did Zhang Xuan plant spies all around them?
"What in the name of the heavens is going here?" Demon Monarch Qiankun looked as if he was going to lose his mind.
The hidden piece had come from the Netherworld Pool, and he had spent a great deal of time and effort to groom him from a fragmented soul into a powerful Conferred God King. How did he become Zhang Xuan's servant?
He had thought that he was the smart one, but it felt like the young man was always one step ahead of them all!
For a moment, Demon Monarch Qiankun suddenly felt like he had lived so many years of his lives in vain.
"Serves you right…" Fairy Linglong chuckled softly beneath her breath.
Show off more, why don't you? Karma really does come around in the end…
Looking at the middle-aged man who was kneeling before him, addressing him as 'Young Master', Zhang Xuan was utterly stunned. "Wei Changfeng?"
A red-eyed Wei Ruyan also walked over with a trembling body as she cried out, "Father…"
The person who had appeared before them was none other than his servant on the Master Teacher Continent who had gone around stealing all kinds of treasures in order to treat his daughter's weak constitution, Wei Changfeng!
Back then, he had died at the hands of a saint beast while trying to procure a medicinal herb, and Wei Ruyan had grieved over him for a long time. Who could have known that he would come back to life and appear there?
"How did you…" Zhang Xuan stared at Wei Changfeng in disbelief.
"I have no idea how it happened either. Right after I died, I felt a powerful suction force pulling my soul in, and by the time I came to, I was already in the Netherworld Pool of the Firmament!"
Words could not begin to describe just how excited Wei Changfeng was seeing his daughter and Zhang Xuan before his eyes. When he learned that there was no way for him to return to the Master Teacher Continent, he had despaired for a very long time. He had thought that he would have to part with his daughter for good.
After embracing Wei Ruyan tightly in agitation, he finally began explaining how everything had come to be. "According to what Demon Monarch Qiankun said, I seem to have a unique constitution. That seems to be the reason Ruyan was born with the Innate Poison Body."
"Unique constitution?" Zhang Xuan frowned.
He had checked on Wei Changfeng's condition using his Library of Heaven's Path when he met the latter on the Master Teacher Continent, and there was nothing special about him. He was an ordinary man through and through.
Was it possible for the Library of Heaven's Path to have made a mistake?
"Did Demon Monarch Qiankun mention what kind of unique constitution it is?" Zhang Xuan asked.
"Yes, he said that I possess the Innate Embryonic Soul. I have an embryonic soul that allows me to retain the bare foundation of my soul even if it dissipates. It ensured that I did not lose myself even after I came back to life from the Netherworld Pool," Wei Changfeng replied.
"Innate Embryonic Soul?" The frown on Zhang Xuan's face deepened.
He had never heard of such a unique constitution before, but it was indeed a very formidable ability. Not even the Deathless Monarch had been able to remain himself after resurrecting from death.
That was probably why Wei Ruyan turned out to be so talented.
As for why the Library of Heaven's Path had been unable to see through Wei Changfeng's constitution, Zhang Xuan figured that it might be because it was too weak back then. It could also be because the ability was lying dormant within Wei Changfeng's soul, and it was only triggered after his death.
In any case, it was a huge relief that Wei Changfeng was alive.
Zhang Xuan could tell that Wei Ruyan had always been conflicted over how her father had died sacrificing himself for her survival, and it was a hurdle that she had never been able to overcome. When she thought of her father, she felt grateful and loved yet guilty and resentful.
Hopefully, such a turn of events could liberate her from the shackles of her father's death.
"Young Master, these are the treasures that I have gathered from the Flooding Sea," Wei Changfeng said as he presented a storage ring to Zhang Xuan.
Looking at the contents of the storage ring, he swiftly spotted the Midnight Flower and the Desolate Iron, and that made him heave a sigh of relief.
In the end, it turned out that it had been Wei Changfeng who was competing with them over the resources all along.
"I need you all to guard me. I'm intending to go into seclusion right now to push for a breakthrough to the God Monarch realm!"
With everything in place, Zhang Xuan was just about to start cultivating to push for a breakthrough when the ground beneath him suddenly started shaking. There was a frightening aura that was swiftly devouring the surroundings.
Alarmed, Zhang Xuan turned his head around, only to see that a massive dimension rift had divided the sky in half.
The spiritual energy that had flowed out to the Firmament was swiftly being swallowed by the dimension rift, and the sudden influx of spiritual energy was causing great instability within the Flooding Sea.
The entire place was already on the verge of collapse.
Conferred God King Liu Yan and the others trembled fearfully as they asked with pale faces, "What's happening?"
"Teacher…" Zhao Ya and the others also quickly turned their gazes over toward Zhang Xuan with nervous looks.
"It appears that someone has taken away the three stalks of Monarch Spirit Grass…" Zhang Xuan narrowed his eyes coldly.
Earlier, he had found three stalks of Monarch Spirit Grass that were used to stabilize a dangerously unstable dimension rift. However, it seemed like someone had taken them away, resulting in its abrupt growth.
The dimension rift was growing exponentially larger, and it did not take long for it to cover the entire sky. The area where they had fought over the possession of the Condensed Earth Essence earlier had been split in two, and there were many more areas that had been swallowed whole by the dimension rift.
The barrier of the Lake of Comets was also being swiftly torn apart by the spatial turbulence gushing forth from the dimension rift.
From the looks of it, the Flooding Sea was only moments away from total collapse.
"Teacher, what should we do?" Zhao Ya asked anxiously.
At this rate, it was only a matter of time before the dimension rift expanded to envelope the Firmament as well.
"We have to find a way to seal off the dimension rift or at least stabilize it," Zhang Xuan replied grimly.
The Flooding Sea was, strictly speaking, not in the Firmament, but it was still linked to it. If the Flooding Sea was destroyed, the Firmament would suffer great devastation as well. Many lives would be lost.
It was because Zhang Xuan knew this would happen that he did not attempt to take away the Monarch Spirit Grass earlier.
Zhang Xuan looked at the glistening Primordial Golden Lotus of the Nine Skies, and it appeared that it would still be some time before his clone could fully fuse the two powers together.
Seeing that there was no way out of this, he gritted his teeth and shouted, "Follow me!"
Then, he began flying toward where the dimension rift was.
Zhao Ya and the others followed him without any hesitation.
"Hahaha…" A resounding laughter echoed from the void. "Weren't you trying to kill me earlier? Let's see who will kill who now!"
Zhang Xuan lifted his head and saw the Epitome Monarch Pill whom he had chased after earlier in the Lake of Comets floating in midair with a vicious smile on his face.
He had swallowed the three stalks of Monarch Spirit Grass, causing his cultivation to grow a step further to reach a level comparable to the God Monarchs.
After that fellow escaped, he had headed straight for where the Monarch Spirit Grass was located and eaten them without any hesitation!
As a result of that, the force that had been holding back the dimension rift all this while was torn apart, resulting in the current disaster.
Seeing how his failure to kill the Epitome Monarch Pill had resulted in a great catastrophe, Zhang Xuan clenched his teeth in fury.
"You're courting death!"
With a furious roar, he drew the Crimson Heaven Sword and charged straight for the Epitome Monarch Pill.
If the Flooding Sea really collapsed, countless lives would be lost in the Firmament… and all of this was caused by this darned fellow!
How could Zhang Xuan possibly not be angry?
He slashed his sword furiously to execute the Pathos of Heaven 4-dan sword art in order to subdue the Epitome Monarch Pill.
"Did you think that the same trick would work on me again? Your naivety is hilarious!" the Epitome Monarch Pill sneered as he thrust his palm downward.
Space seemed to have suddenly halted in that instant, and Zhang Xuan found himself unable to move at all.
With this single move, Zhang Xuan's sword art was sealed. It was apparent that he was no longer a match for the Epitome Monarch Pill!
Seeing this, Zhao Ya and the others quickly rushed over to back him up, only to hear a voice shouting in their ears. "Don't bother with me. Hurry up and stabilize the dimension rift!"
Zhao Ya and the others clenched their fists tightly. They were worried about their teacher, but they also knew that the dimension rift would only get more and more dangerous if it was left unchecked. So, they followed their teacher's order and turned their attention toward the dimension rift instead.
Meanwhile, Zhang Xuan released a surge of Sword Intent from his body and forcefully tore apart the frozen space around him. Then, he began to charge toward the Epitome Monarch Pill once more.
"We need to think of a way to seal off the dimension rift, or else it'll result in a huge calamity for the Firmament…" Zhao Ya and the others stared at the dimension rift with narrowed eyes.
In the first place, there was already the dimension fissure above the Flooding Sea that was sucking the spiritual energy out of the Firmament, and the Nine God Monarchs were utterly helpless against it. If another dimension rift appeared within the Flooding Sea, they could not even begin to imagine just what kind of disaster it would bring to the already precarious Firmament.
"Let me do it!"
Luo Qiqi charged to the forefront of the dimension rift and morphed into the Dimension Silencer. Then, she began to freeze the space around the dimension rift in order to prevent it from expanding any further.
With her effort, the expansion of the dimension rift actually came to a halt.
However, such a course of action seemed to be taking a huge toll on Luo Qiqi. The orb that she had morphed into trembled nonstop under the strain, and it felt like she would suffer an overwhelming rebound very soon once the space she was freezing broke free from her restraints.
"Quick, we need to help Qiqi!"
Zhao Ya and the others rushed over and channeled their zhenqi toward Luo Qiqi in order to supply her with the energy she needed to sustain this.
The dimension rift was indeed stopped for a while under their efforts, but before long, it began wavering once more. Then, everything continued to fall into the dimension rift yet again, be it rocks, spiritual energy, or treasures. All of them vanished without a trace after entering the dimension rift.
Luo Qiqi spurted a mouthful of blood as she was forcefully jolted back into her human form. Blood flowed down her chin from the massive impact she suffered.
At the same time, the faces of Zhao Ya and the others also turned ghastly pale.
Without the Dimension Silencer to stop it, the dimension rift grew bigger with greater ferocity. In just a few moments, it had already devoured a huge chunk of the Flooding Sea, as if it was determined to reduce this area to nothing.
"I can't stop it!" Luo Qiqi cried out in despair.
The Flooding Sea and the Flood of Spiritual Energy were temporary measures put in place by the world in order to slow the receding spiritual energy, and it had been unstable right from the start. The abrupt expansion of the dimension rift was like the first domino to fall, and once the process started, there was no way to stop it.
Even with Luo Qiqi, Zhao Ya, and the others' superior strength, they were powerless in this situation.
"Teacher! Only our teacher can seal off the dimension rift!" Zhao Ya exclaimed as she quickly turned her gaze to Zhang Xuan.
At this very moment, the battle between Zhang Xuan and the Epitome Monarch Pill had reached its climax.
The Epitome Monarch Pill had successfully made a breakthrough to the God Monarch realm after consuming the Monarch Spirit Grass. While he had not gained the recognition of the Nine Skies yet, in terms of raw power, he was no weaker than the God Monarchs anymore.
On the other hand, while Zhang Xuan had managed to raise his zhenqi cultivation to Conferred God King realm pinnacle, his strength was a little lacking to deal with the Epitome Monarch Pill. As a result, he had been in a disadvantageous position the whole time.
"Hahaha, that's what you get for challenging me! It's time for you to die!"
Seeing how the young man who had arrogantly sliced his limbs off earlier was finally suppressed by his strength, the Epitome Monarch Pill burst into excited laughter. He raised his palm and channeled his overwhelming strength to strike down Zhang Xuan yet again.
The Flooding Sea was already on the verge of falling apart, and the relentless attacks from the Epitome Monarch Pill were only hastening the destruction process. The entire space fell into chaos as spiritual energy surged around messily. There were quite a few God Kings who had already been sliced into pieces as a result of the chaos that was going on.
Usually, most God Kings would still be able to walk out of Flooding Sea alive, but within five minutes of the outburst of chaos, more than half of the God Kings had met their end.
In fact, even Conferred God Kings were starting to fall.
Within a short period of time, the death toll had exceeded that of a decade ago.
Seeing how the Epitome Monarch Pill was fighting more and more carelessly as time went by, Zhang Xuan's complexion turned awful.
"I need to quickly deal with this, or else we will all die here…"
At this rate, everything would be over by the time he was done with this fight.
"But I am already exerting my strength to my limit… If I want to subdue him quickly, I'll have to find a way to raise my cultivation somehow…"
He was already driving his zhenqi and soul cultivation to his limits and executing his strongest sword arts, but the Epitome Monarch Pill was overflowing with energy after devouring the Monarch Spirit Grass.
He did not stand a chance at all in his current state.
"I'll just have to make a breakthrough…"
Paying no heed to the palm strike descending upon him, Zhang Xuan took a deep breath before pulling out all the treasures that his disciples had given him.
With a burst of his zhenqi, he immediately tore apart all those treasures to extract their spiritual energy within.
Concentrated spiritual energy flowed endlessly into his acupoints and streamed through his meridians, nourishing his body.
Seeing how his opponent was still attempting to make a breakthrough while fighting him, the Epitome Monarch Pill harrumphed coldly as he hastened his attack. "It is too late for you to start thinking about making a breakthrough!"
"I have more than enough time here," Zhang Xuan mumbled to himself as he immersed his consciousness into the Great Codex of Spring and Autumn.
If he cultivated in there, his time would be accelerated by a rate of ten thousand times of the outer world.
So, a second out in the Flooding Sea equated to ten thousand seconds in the Great Codex of Spring of Autumn, which was roughly 2.7 hours.
That should be more than enough for him to become a God Monarch.
Calming himself, he drove his zhenqi rapidly, and the bottleneck that he had chosen not to overcome the previous time appeared before him once more.
With a deep roar, he converted the energy within his body into sword qi to tear down the bottleneck blocking his path.
Boom boom boom!
He struck on the bottleneck with the greatest might he could muster, but he was still unable to tear it down.
"Damn it! Even after comprehending a God Monarch realm cultivation technique, it seems like it's still no easy feat to make a breakthrough…"
When he felt the urge to make a breakthrough back when he was on the moon, he had thought that he could overcome the bottleneck as and when he liked. However, it seemed like he had been underestimating the level of difficulty.
God Monarchs were the highest existences in the world. It was a level that all lives craved to reach, but since time immemorial, the only one who had succeeded was Kong shi. It was a feat difficult enough to be labeled with the word 'impossible'.
"It isn't just about the bottleneck within me. More than that, the heavens aren't allowing me to make a breakthrough…"
After attempting a few more times, Zhang Xuan finally understood the crux of the problem.
It was not just a problem about his own cultivation. More importantly, he could sense the presence of a force in the world suppressing him, preventing him from successfully making a breakthrough.
It was as if the heavens were guarding this final rite of passage. Anyone who tried to pass through it would be dragged out. It was a place that existed, but no one was allowed to enter it.
Knowing that the culprit was likely the Library of Heaven's Path inside of him, Zhang Xuan unhesitatingly sealed it off with his soul cultivation.
He attempted to make a breakthrough again, but his energy was still unable to reach the ultimate level of consummation to overcome the final hurdle to God Monarch.
"I'm still lacking in energy…" Zhang Xuan cursed beneath his breath.
Simply too many cultivation resources were required for him to become a God Monarch. Even after devouring all the treasures that his disciples and Wei Changfeng had collected and presented to him, he was unable to gather sufficient momentum to overcome the final barrier.
There was only one solution that he could think of.
The enemy that he was facing, the Epitome Monarch Pill, was also a cultivation resource, a God Monarch realm one at that.
If he could just devour it, along with his prior accumulation, the final hurdle to becoming a God Monarch should not pose a problem. He would be able to burst through it with a decisive kick!
But… how could he go about doing that when he was not a match for the other party?
With a click of his tongue, he quickly pulled his consciousness out of the Great Codex of Spring and Autumn before launching yet another sword art to barely defend against the descending palm strike.
Seeing through the problem that Zhang Xuan was facing, the Epitome Monarch Pill scoffed mockingly. "Hahaha! If it was that easy to become a God Monarch, I would have left the Flooding Sea long ago. I wouldn't have been trapped in this darned place for so long…"
Pah pah pah!
The cracks in space that were caused by the destruction had already crept to Zhang Xuan's side. Taking a swift glance around him, the Flooding Sea was in a complete mess from the forces raging all around. It was not too far away from being completely obliterated.
"If I can't make a breakthrough before the Flooding Sea collapses, it'll be even harder for me to make a breakthrough once I return to the Firmament," Zhang Xuan murmured anxiously.
He would come under the suppression of the Nine Skies once he returned to the Firmament, and that would make it nigh impossible for him to become a God Monarch in the short-term. He would have to earn the recognition of those in the Firmament and collect a great amount of Anima of Yearning in order to be officially acknowledged by the Nine Skies.
However, he needed the strength to deal with the crisis right now! He did not have that much time to spare!
Despite the tattered state of the Flooding Sea, it was still holding on due to the reflux of spiritual energy from the Firmament. Once all the spiritual energy was gone, the Flooding Sea would collapse.
"One minute. That's all the time I have right now. I need to become a God Monarch within one minute…"
That was Zhang Xuan's estimation before the collapse of the Flooding Sea.
However, it would be difficult for him to pull that off even with the aid of the Great Codex of Spring and Autumn. It was nigh impossible to achieve!
After all, the success of his breakthrough was built on the foundation of defeating the Epitome Monarch Pill, and that was, in turn, built on the condition that he needed to have the strength of a God Monarch…
It was like an infinite loop that he could not break out of.
An idea suddenly popped into Zhang Xuan's head.
"Unless… unless I am able to comprehend a God Monarch realm sword art!"
It would be impossible for him to subdue the Epitome Monarch Pill and devour it within the next sixty seconds in his current state. He would have to find a way to raise his fighting prowess somehow in order to pull that off.
Since he could not raise his cultivation, he could only raise the prowess of his sword art!
The God Monarch realm cultivation technique that he had comprehended was based on love.
Even the heavens and earth are limited by time, but our feelings shall be eternal!
If he could figure out the sword art and exert it with his full force, he might just be able to slay the Epitome Monarch Pill.
However, the cultivation technique of the Pathos of Heaven was separate from its sword art, and deciphering the sword art before he had made a breakthrough was even more difficult. After all, he was trying to figure out a sword art intended for God Monarchs before even becoming a God Monarch.
In terms of difficulty, that might be even tougher for him than making a breakthrough in his cultivation to become a God Monarch.
However, he had no other choice.
So, he began brandishing his sword in accordance to the God Monarch realm cultivation technique that he had comprehended, trying to shape it into a sword art. But each and every time, he would suddenly find his energy stopping at some point. He simply could not get it to flow smoothly outward.
"It's still wrong!"
After trying ten different types of Sword Intents to drive his sword art in vain, his zhenqi fell into disarray from his haphazard attempts to circulate his zhenqi.
Time ticked by.
In the blink of an eye, thirty seconds had already passed.
The Flooding Sea was swiftly reaching its limit. The shaking had become more intense, and from the looks of it, it was hard to tell whether it would be able to last another next ten seconds or not.
"I sure am interested to see how many blows you can survive!" the Epitome Monarch Pill cried out excitedly as he sent yet another palm flying toward Zhang Xuan.
He could see through Zhang Xuan's intention, so he wanted to crush his final sliver of hope.
The force he exerted this time was far greater than before, and it choked out the final breath of life within the Flooding Sea. The surrounding space began to collapse inward and crush down on both Zhang Xuan and the Epitome Monarch Pill.
This was a strike that would determine the life and death of two individuals.
If Zhang Xuan could not withstand the strike, it would be his death.
If he managed to do it, it would be the Epitome Monarch Pill's death.
"Teacher…" Zhao Ya and the others watched with reddened eyes.
They wanted to rush over to help him, but before they knew it, they had already been forcefully ejected from the collapsed space.
The only ones remaining on the battlefield were the two of them. Except for God Monarchs, no one was able to get close.
"It looks like I won't be able to comprehend it after all. I already knew it right from the start. Time is simply too tight, and it's impossible to figure out a God Monarch realm sword art in the spur of the moment. I was simply praying for a miracle to happen," Zhang Xuan muttered derisively beneath his breath.
So far, he had somehow been able to resolve any danger through his swift thinking and a stroke of luck. He had hoped that the same would happen this time, but he had simply been too optimistic.
There were some things that were simply impossible to pull off in the world. Just because he wished dearly for something to happen did not mean that it would.
Knowing that it was impossible for him to succeed, he gazed upward and watched as fragments of space exploded like fireworks in the sky before slowly crumbling to an endless void.
In that instant, time seemed to have slowed for him.
He returned to the time when he was still on the Master Teacher Continent, the moment that he activated his Zhang Clan bloodline.
Countless memories that he had made ever since his transcension two years ago played in his mind in slow motion.
In order not to be driven out of school, he had worked hard to be a better teacher. From there on, he had slowly advanced a step at a time. There had been so many things driving him forward along the way, be it his students, his family, his lover, or his friends…
Looking back, he seemed to have been fighting all this while without stop.
Perhaps this would be a good place for his journey to end.
He had thought that his fate was to meet his end under Luo Ruoxin's blade while competing over the fragments of the heavens, but it looked like he would be spared from such awkwardness.
A bittersweet smile crept onto Zhang Xuan's lips as he suddenly thought about Luo Ruoxin.
"If I die and can't be revived anymore, she'll be really upset, right?
"Maybe she knew that this would be our fate when she agreed to get together with me…"
Thinking back, his ignorance all this while could be considered a blessing. There was probably nothing more painful in the world than having to wait for the arrival of an inevitable, tragic fate.
She must have suffered a lot ever since meeting him.
"Thinking about it, the God Monarch of the Sword Hut said that my sword art has too much yearning but lacks protection, and that's why it lacks the determination to push through at all costs. Is that the reason I failed?"
To protect meant to keep one's loved ones free from harm, but in the end, it felt like he could not protect anyone at all. It seemed like he really was not suited for this.
He was not like Kong shi, who carried great compassion for everyone and wholeheartedly wished for the prosperity of the world. He had never wanted to become the savior of the world either.
That was not the path he wanted to walk. That was not the path that he had chosen.
"I am just me. I don't hope to become enlightened and truly liberated from the world. All I hope is to be accountable to my own conscience.
"If we can't be together alive, at the very least, we will be together after death!
"Let this be the final desperate struggle for my obstinacy!
"May we reunite if I survive this ordeal, and I pray that we'll continue living on in each other's minds should I fall in this fight!"
A brilliant glint surfaced in Zhang Xuan's eyes as he compressed his surging Sword Intent together into the Crimson Heaven Sword.
With a slash of his sword, a burst of sword qi shot right into the heavens and tore the attack of the Epitome Monarch Pill in two.
"T-this… What kind of sword art is that? How are you able to execute such a powerful move?"
A shrill cry echoed in the air as the Epitome Monarch Pill muttered in disbelief. His body burst apart and morphed into a tornado of condensed spiritual energy before surging furiously into Zhang Xuan's body.
With this, the restraints that had held Zhang Xuan back previously were swiftly overcome, and his cultivation surged furiously.
With a victorious smile, Zhang Xuan looked into the sky and bellowed with a regal voice that echoed in the depths of countless souls, "Today, I shall become a God Monarch."
And just like that, he overcame the final bottleneck to the peak of the Firmament.
God Monarch realm, reached!
The Flooding Sea finally burst apart like a brilliant firework.
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